Squatter settlements are said to reflect an ugly facet of urbanisation. Not just in developing countries, squatters are prevalent in developed nations as well. In Nepal, Kathmandu is one such an urban hub that has been hosting an increasing number of landless squatters for years now.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has yet again come into the spotlight for its move to remove the landless squatters from the banks of the Bagmati River at Thapathali. The local government has vowed to do so. The squatter settlement area turned out to be a battlefield on Monday this week when the KMC security officials started demolishing huts of the squatters indiscriminately with the use of dozers. The immature step on the part of the responsible local government erupted protests and confrontations between the metropolitan security officials and squatters. About three dozen security officials were left injured in the clash.
The KMC’s leadership was widely criticised for its ‘inhumane’ act. Amidst all this, the National Land Commission has also blamed the KMC for moving forward with its unilateral plan to demolish the settlements without any alternative arrangement. Apparently, the two institutions had signed an agreement that they would work on completing the data collection and identification of genuine landless squatters before taking such a destructive move.
These squatters want to continue living on the riverside as they have no way out. The government had spent as much as Rs. 230 million on building apartments for the squatter population in the Ichangu Narayan area. But, they did not feel the apartment to be a proper alternative as it is located too far away from their working areas.
The High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation is an authority that focuses on improving the water security in the Bagmati river basin. This river plays a pivotal role in supplying water to people. It appears that the squatters’ settlement has remained a hurdle for the authorities to carry out necessary changes on the riverside.
As of now, the number of squatters has increased substantially. This has reached a point where the real squatters and urban migrants have mixed up together. Even well-off individuals are said to have been living there among the poor squatters on the pretext of being financially weak. There are also people from other parts of the country who have settled themselves down along the riverbanks as they are unable to afford to live in a rented space or even possess a property of their own.
Therefore, identification of the real squatters is very essential. By doing so, the authorities can provide necessary support and relocate them properly by creating amenities. In reality, the squatters’ problem is something that can be solved very easily within a short period of time. But the authorities and the political leaders do not seem to have taken this matter seriously.
Every human being wants to live in a proper house with all the services well available to them. But owing to urban poverty and inequality, people are bound to have different financial situations. So, some are not privileged to be able to fulfill all of their basic needs. In such a situation, the government should play a role of a guardian. Instead of creating a sense of terror among squatters, the KMC must coordinate with all responsible stakeholders to seek a right solution to the problem.